Editor's note: Although the retail version of Nero 7 Ultra Edition is currently available, the downloadable version won't be released until October 26, 2005. The downloadable version will include patches for known problems in the retail code, in addition to extra features. All incremental upgrades are free to Nero customers. (10/9/05)
Nero, the 800-pound gorilla of disc-burning tools, has released version 7, which adds a major new tool to the suite: Nero Home, a media-browsing interface meant for remote control from the couch. Driving Nero Home is Nero Scout, a database tool that keeps track of your media files. With Nero 7, you'll also find support for new technologies (such as 5.1 and 7.1 audio, Blu-ray discs, and HDV video) and major improvements to the DVD creation and backup tools. For all you get, the $99 price (cheaper with rebates or upgrades) is the best deal going. Nero is still the top pick for power users, although we think casual users should wait to see what Roxio has in store when its Easy Media Creator 8 comes out later this month.
Nero is bigger than ever: the complete Nero 7 code requires a serious chunk of system memory--600MB--so make sure you have the room before installing. Users were already complaining about bloat on message boards even before launch. Nero can be a system resource hog, even when doing simple tasks, such as browsing files in the new Nero Home app. If you're sure there are some tools in Nero 7 that you'll never need, go for the custom install and deselect those items. Nero 7 also gives you the ability to add or remove languages during installation, so you can also save a few kilobytes by deselecting German, for example, which is on by default. You can also uncheck file associations, if you don't want Nero's various apps to be the default handlers for nearly every media-related task you might want to do.
Nero 7 shows some improvements to Nero's application interfaces, but there's no sign of the massive face-lift we were hoping for. Nero's idea of a simple interface is the SmartStart screen: colorful wizard screens that let you choose programs by task, which is a boon for newbies who aren't familiar with the underlying programs. Once you've selected your task (burning an audio CD or making a photo slide show, for example), Nero opens the appropriate application. The individual applications all have a bland, Windows Explorer-like interface; they're not difficult to navigate, nor are they a pleasure. Unfortunately, there's no unified design element that ties together the programs and makes them easier to use. Rather, they all have their own look and layout.
Nero Home marks new territory for Nero 7, which began with disc-creation tools, then added media-editing tools. Now, with Nero Home, it moves into media playback. Nero Home provides a Windows XP Media Center experience without Media Center, and offers an already familiar-looking big-icon view of your files, which it divides into groups: Audio, Playlists, Photos, Video and TV, and Devices. You'll need to supply your own remote (or any wireless pointing device, such as a mouse), but Nero Home lets you select files from the couch. Driving Nero Home is Nero Scout, a new database program that catalogs all of your media files. Scout's initial indexing of our hard drive took hours on our test system, which didn't even have that many files on it, so don't plan on using it immediately. Nero Home is, likewise, a sluggish performer. You'll need to wait a few seconds for your files to appear when you make a selection. We like that Nero Home offers time-shifting for those with TV tuner cards and a video feed, but we wish the program included niceties such as the ability to download listings or CD cover art (a representative told us that cover art downloading will come soon as a free upgrade).